Brunel University was alive with the buzzing of the sharing of memories at an event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the former London School of Occupational Therapy (LSOT), on Thursday 6 January.
Now integrated into the School of Health Sciences and Social Care at Brunel, in a modern building for the 21st century, the LSOT is still fondly remembered by those who could recall its heyday.
The LSOT was founded in 1934 by Miss Tarrant and Miss Rivett when it operated from the ground floor of a clock factory on Tottenham Court Road. It then offered a two-year training course and had an intake of six students.
After the Second World War, the LSOT moved to Merton Rise, Hampstead, and in 1969 it relocated to nearby Eton Avenue. The School transferred to the West London Institute of Higher Education in 1980 and merged with Brunel University in 1995. In 2006, all the courses at the Institute were consolidated at Brunel's campus in Uxbridge. Today there are 370 students, comprising 333 undergraduates and 37 graduates, on a newly-introduced pre-entry Masters Degree.
Dr Elizabeth Grove, 82, the earliest former LSOT student present, recalled that Miss Tarrant and Miss Rivett, were known as "The Aunts" and were "great characters."
Dr Grove, an honorary graduate of Brunel University and founder of Integrated Neurological Services, a charity which provides ongoing rehabilitation to people with neurological conditions, enrolled at the LSOT in 1945 when there were 60 students, including ex-servicemen and women. At this point, the training was extended to three years and it offered a dual qualification in physiological and mental health care.
"The first two male students joined then," Dr Grove recalled. "One was a Yorkshireman who was a Sergeant-Major and the other was a printer. He introduced printing into the activities of occupational therapists," she said.
Dr Grove became the Head of Occupational Therapy at St George’s Hospital in 1957, and was the first Occupational Therapy Officer at the Department of Health from 1976 to 1988.
Julia Scott, the Chief Executive of the College of Occupational Therapists, paid tribute to the work of LSOT and said that she personally had learned that "the practice of Occupational Therapy gave back in equal return how much I had invested in it."
Memories of the LSOT included students having the hem of their skirts measured — during the era of the mini-skirt — to ensure that not too much knee was displayed, and curtseying.
Former LSOT lecturer Christopher Bailey, now teaching at Brunel, presented an entertaining stream of stories from his first two decades. He recalled eating strawberries and cream on Primrose Hill with the students, looking out over London Zoo in 1969. He said when he joined the LSOT as a full-time staff member he was a "hippie"; his hair was long and blond and the "The Aunts" had advised him to cut it in order to look more respectable.
He recalled that despite the hem-measuring and curtseying, the 1960s was "the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and our students had the potential to shock, surprise and even be outrageous."
Brunel lecturer, Margaret Gallagher, who joined the LSOT in the early 1970s, admitted that being allowed to wear her "white platform boots and flares" and being able to stay fashionable was one of the factors that persuaded her to choose the profession.
She recollected that at 55 Eton Avenue, the 300 students came from diverse backgrounds, both privileged and poor. The students put on end-of-term plays, including the musical Sweet Charity, which she produced. In 1973, they performed an original drama called Beyond the Basket to show that "we did more than basket-weaving… Without vision we perish," she added.
Bethan Dickson, who graduated last year, told the audience that she had decided to become an occupational therapist after being made redundant. Following a suggestion to consider the profession from a relative, she shadowed an OT at a hospital where she met a Brunel student who was enthusiastic about the course. At Brunel, Bethan had had a "very challenging" placement in a children’s rehabilitation centre in Shanghai, an alternative placement in Australia, and "valuable experience" at a community for older adults in Harrow.
Professor Lorraine de Souza, Head of the School of Health Sciences and Social Care at Brunel, said the course had strong links with the NHS and its cohort of undergraduates and graduates were "enthusiastic to develop their profession further."
The day was completed with the conferment of an honorary fellowship on Dr Sidney Chu, Manager of the Paediatric Occupational Therapy Service at Ealing and Harrow Community Services.
Notes to Editors
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